Oddly enough I do remember seeing this Hallmark drama twice. When it came out in 1961 (although I was only seven) and again in the early 1970s when they repeated it (which suggests to me that they actually kept these taped and filmed plays for years - there may be a chance it still around in some vault). It was a good production all around and shown (properly) around the Easter holidays. It's repeat appearance in the 1970s was probably due to the success of its star, James Daly, in MEDICAL CENTER.
I am (as a non-Christian) always fascinated by the mileage gotten out of the story of the passion of Christ (his betrayal, trial, humiliation, crucifixion, and resurrection). It is (whether true or not) one of the great stories of the Western World. And it is remarkable about how, with so little known of the historical Jesus Christ, so much is guessed about the minor figures in the story. I don't refer to his apostles that way (St. Peter is hardly a minor historical figure), but characters like Barabbas and Joseph of Aramathea (the subject, by the way, of another Hallmark Hall of Fame play) who are just barely mentioned. Barabbas, if you really cannot recall, is the thief who was spared by the bribed crowd before Pontius Pilate rather than Jesus. So he and Jesus and a third man (another thief) were taken to Golgotha and crucified, but Barabbas was taken down and released*.
(*Most people think that Christ died from the result of blood poisoning on the cross due to the frightful image of those nails driven into his body in his hands and feet. Actually people dying by crucifixion (not only Christ, but earlier in history Sparticus) died from a combination of suffocation (the human body cannot stand the weight of it being held up by two arms like that, and it presses down on the chest muscles and lungs), exposure, and thirst. However, whatever the actual cause (and Christ also got a spear thrust into his side while hanging on the cross), it is a horrendously awful way of dying.)
In the production,Barabbas is shown to be more than a thief - a key criminal in the underworld of Jerusalem in 33 A.D. He is captured as the result of a crime, and is put into prison. He has heard rumors about a holy man...a descendant possibly of King David...coming into Jerusalem to spread a possibly treasonable message. Soon he is brought up to the palace of the Procurator Pilate, and there sees this holy man. Being cynical, Barabbas is unimpressed at first, but he notes the man's quiet dignity and calm, and he also is aware that the worries of the religious and political leadership seem to be out of proportion to what the man Jesus has done. But Barabbas keeps these thoughts to himself. Soon he and Jesus are taken to the balcony on Pilate's orders and the Procurator explains to the crowd one will be spared. The crowd (which, as I said, appears to have been bribed) yell "Give us Barabbas!" and so he is spared not Jesus.
Now the teleplay differs from a movie of the same period about Barabbas that starred Anthony Quinn, and followed his imprisonment in a mine in Italy, and later his gladiatorial career. Here Daly's Barabbas is as happy as a lark to escape that dreadful death. Any uncertainties he felt about the fairness of what was done to Jesus flies out of his mind. But this quickly changes. When he returns to his old haunts, he finds that he is not as welcomed as he thought. Most of his cronies think that something despicable happened. They are aware of what Jesus was like, and can't believe that Barabbas was chosen fairly. Barabbas himself thought that his friends were responsible for the crowd choosing him, and is shocked to find this was not the case. He is put on trial (a mock trial) to see if his explanation of his freedom is acceptable. It isn't. Barabbas' ex-cronies tell him that members of the Temple's leadership and the political leaders were responsible for buying the crowd's support. Also they tell him that they think he was amenable to this because he was going to eventually betray them all. In the end, spitting at him as they leave their mock court they banish him from further contact with them.
Daly gave a very fine performance as a bad man who (for once) is not guilty of being anything other than a pawn of history. Wandering in confused state of mind about what he has experienced in the last two days, he runs across another unhappy and confused person, and tries to explain how he feels. The other party seems to understand but cannot give him any relief, as he has also suffered - the other party is Judas, now despised by his former associates as a traitor, and we last see him plowing with unsteady steps towards the tree he will hang himself from.
In the end Daly actually finds peace - he runs into Peter, and suddenly realizes there may be a chance for some type of peace, and even redemption. Our cynical criminal ends up changing into an early Christian as the play ends.
Sentimental, no doubt, and non-Christians would find flaws in it's story by rejecting Christ as the son of God. But it was well told, with many telling little moments (one of the witnesses at the mock trial, in talking about what he heard and saw, gets side-tracked about a pomegranate he stole that turned out to be sour). To me GIVE US BARABBAS was an excellent example of Hallmark drama at it's best, and hopefully one day will be revived.
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